Flexibility unlimited

With the government’s business champion for older workers calling on organisations to employ more people over the age of 50, Timewise’s Joint CEO Karen Mattison MBE explores the role that flexibility could play.


Mature woman using telephone at desk in officeFrom how we fund social care to the growing pressure on the NHS, the implications of our ageing population is a hot, and often contentious, topic. And recently, the World Economic Forum has raised another issue, warning that the retirement age in Britain will need to rise to 70 by the middle of the century to head off a pension crisis.

So it’s not surprising that the government’s business champion is calling on organisations to commit to employing more people over the age of 50 – with the aim of having an additional million older staff in the workplace by 2022.  And the staff want it too; according to the government’s Fuller Working Lives report, there are currently almost a million 50- to 64-year-olds who are not in employment at all, but say they are willing or would like to work.

So if it’s good for employers, and popular with employees, why isn’t it happening – and what needs to change? Well, as a recent Guardian article pointed out, the drive to keep people working for longer presents a real opportunity to design roles that suit an older workforce – with flexibility at its core. Here at Timewise, we couldn’t agree more.

We need to think creatively about what works for the over 50s

Older workers have a valuable role to play within any organisation. They will have banked a huge amount of experience which no amount of training can buy. They make excellent mentors for younger team members, able to offer guidance and encouragement as well as sharing their insights into how to get on and get ahead. And they are likely to know their industry, and the people within it, inside out.

So if we want to keep hold of them for longer, as the Guardian article says: “We simply need to think more creatively about what work is, how it can change and how we can change over a longer lifetime… That could mean working at a different pace at different stages, for example.”

Flexible working could be the solution

Certainly, it’s not a huge leap to suggest that older workers might be looking to reduce their hours, or work remotely, to make staying in the workplace more appealing. And if that means redesigning their jobs to make them work on a flexible basis, we’d argue that it’s well worth it.

That’s why we’re delighted to be working with the Centre for Ageing Better to carry out employer focused research that will help us all understand how to make workplaces more age-friendly. We’ll be exploring the barriers as well as the possible solutions for designing roles with flexible working options that will help attract and retain our older workforce. We’ll keep you posted about how the project is developing.

In the meantime, the onus is on employers to start thinking flexibly about the path towards retirement. Don’t write off the upper end of your workforce, or lose the experience that they have spent so many years acquiring. Instead, look at how you could flex their roles and responsibilities, so you can make the most of their talents whilst accommodating their changing needs.

By doing so, you’ll hang on to some of the most experienced people in your industry and keep their skills in house.  What organisation wouldn’t want that?

To find out more about our consultancy and training services, contact natalie.gill@timewise.co.uk or call Natalie on 020 7633 4451